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Imperfect Self-Defense as Voluntary Manslaughter

What is the Difference Between Perfect and Imperfect Self-Defense?

Imperfect self-defense is another way to reduce a murder charge to the lesser-included offense of voluntary manslaughter. Imperfect self-defense means that a person honestly, but unreasonably, believed they (or someone close to them) were in danger of great bodily injury or death, and killed another person because of that fear.

What is Perfect Self-Defense?

In contrast, perfect self-defense, which is a complete defense to murder, is where a person honestly and reasonably believes they are in imminent danger of death or great bodily injury.

Every case is different, and depending on your situation you may have a perfect self-defense or imperfect self-defense. The jury instruction for imperfect self-defense, CALCRIM 571 reads,

A defendant's actions can be considered "imperfect self-defense" or "imperfect defense" if:

  • 1. He or she really believed that there was imminent danger that would cause the defendant or another individual death or to suffer great bodily injury; AND
  • 2. The defendant really believed that he or she had to use immediate deadly force as a defense against the danger; BUT
  • 3. At least one of those beliefs is considered unreasonable.

What Is an Example of Imperfect Self-Defense?

As an example, if someone threatens a person with a red toy gun, and that person unreasonably, but genuinely, believes it was a real gun and kills the person holding the gun because of that belief, the person would be guilty not of first-degree murder, only voluntary manslaughter.

This can apply to all types of situations, including fights, domestic violence, and gang violence. Imperfect self-defense happens when someone believes something is a serious threat, but other people would not have seen it that way.

At the Castillo Law Office, we investigate and use our knowledge of the law to present the best case for you. If perfect self-defense can apply to you, we will work hard to prove your innocence. If the better approach is to reduce a first-degree murder charge to a voluntary manslaughter, then we will develop an imperfect self-defense for you. Our Oakland criminal defense attorney knows the law and uses it to your advantage.

Hear it From A Few
Of Our Clients

  • I would highly recommend Mr Castillo to anyone.

    “Mr Castillo represented me on a criminal case in which I was falsely accused in 2012. He took over the case from a previous lawyer who was less aggressive and not actively pursing my defense. Mr Castillo is a confident, aggressive and very persistent lawyer. He kept my family and I up to date on the case and also returned our calls on time. Mr Castillo persuaded me not to take any deal and wanted take the case to trial because he was confident that he would win. With the Lord's guidance and Ernie's aggressiveness my case was dismissed. I would highly recommend Mr Castillo to anyone.”


  • I would recommend Mr. Castillo without any reservation.

    “Ernie Castillo was highly recommended to us. I researched and interviewed a few attorneys before making a decision of who we were going to select. It's so tough selecting when you're skeptical with the horror stories of attorney's not feeling the passion for their work but the money. After long conversations my husband and I decided to go with Ernie to represent our son in a serious case with multiple charges. We were not disappointed at all. Mr. Castillo expertise exceeded our expectations. His was thorough, he kept us up to date on the case, answered all our questions, returned our calls in a timely manner, he's truly a genuine and sincere person. Most of all his knowledge in handling the case was remarkable. I can't express thanks enough to Ernie for the spectacular job he did defending my son who was facing years in jail. He took a stressful situation and relieved it with a positive outcome. I would recommend Mr. Castillo without any reservation.”


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    “A few years back, Ernie Castillo represented a family member of mine who was charged with a vehicular offense. Although minor compared to the high profile cases Ernie is accustomed to, Ernie took the case with the utmost professionalism and was able to reduce the charge so that my family member's record was not affected. I can't thank Ernie enough for investing his time and sincere efforts to helping my family out. He truly is a master of his craft.”